Before I learned of Magda Gerber’s respectful parenting approach I would have never thought to associate caregiving time (feeding, diapering, bathing etc) with quality time. Quality time, in my view, was time spent playing games with the children, having fun, going for icecream, running around with them at the park etc. It’s true, that these things can be quality time if done mindfully but I now know that the type of quality time Magda spoke about, Wants Something Quality Time, far surpasses these other types of quality times spent with children for many reasons.
Magda educated parents on two different types of quality time with children, Wants Something Quality Time (WSQT) and Wants Nothing Quality Time (WNQT). She differentiated between the two by explaining that in WSQT there is a goal that requires parent and child to work together to achieve it. Dressing, bathing, feeding, diapering, teeth brushing, nail clipping etc are some examples of such caregiving tasks.
WNQT, on the other hand, is when the parent doesn’t have anything in particular they need to do with the child, they are simply present (mind and body) with them, observing and showing them that they appreciate their work (play). RIE Associate and respectful parenting expert, Lisa Sunbury Gerber wrote this article on emptying our minds to be more present with our children which is a good read for those embarking on this journey.
Why is Wants Something Quality Time so Connecting?
Both wants nothing and wants something quality time are beneficial in helping a child feel loved, valued and cared about, but my experience has been that when I make a commitment to consistently offer WSQT to my children, our connection goes through the roof for these reasons:
1. It is Regular
There are many times during the day that young children need us to assist them with their care. The regularity of these times means that when adopting Magda’s approach, a child is consistently experiencing our full attention and appreciation. They subsequently reap the positive effects of this attention saturation.
2. It is intimate
Many caregiving activities involve the child’s body and require touch. The nature of this intimacy already makes such tasks connecting for the child. When we are able to slow down and respect that we are involved in such an intimate way with our young ones, that connection is heightened.
In fact, Magda suggested that in care settings outside the home, infants and young children should have only one primary care giver for such things as diapering and dressing, such was the intimate nature of these activities and the resulting bonds that were formed.
3. It requires limits
It is widely understood that children need limits to feel safe, secure and loved and Magda certainly believed this. Unlike, WNQT, WSQT requires that a job is completed. So, whilst it is important to slow down, be light-hearted and have fun with our children during these times, we must also keep the momentum moving towards achieving the goal. Magda says: “Fooling around is very much part of development but the child does have to cooperate later; I’LL DANCE WITH YOU AND THEN YOU MUST DANCE WITH ME.”
When we, as parents, can confidently and firmly lead a child through the task, even when there is resistance, they can feel secure in our leadership and competence to look after them, thus feel more connected.
4. It is based on mutual trust
Each time we are gentle, respectful and 100% focused on our child whilst involved in WSQT with them, it sets up a relationship of mutual trust. It starts in early infancy when we invite cooperation from even newborn babies, trusting in their competence and willingness to participate from birth.
The child can also feel trusted to be able to spend several moments appreciating something unrelated to the care giving before coming back to the task at hand. By following their gaze and showing them we notice their interest, as well as moving slowly and gently in our care of them, they, in turn, learn to trust us and our respectful treatment of them.
5. It allows the parent and the child to get to know each other
When my girls were little I spent a long time getting to know them and trying to figure them out (a work in progress) but I didn’t really stop to think that they would be doing the same to me. WSQT provides the perfect opportunity to learn about our children and for them to learn about us.
Magda says: “Under the right circumstances it is a peaceful, rewarding time for both parties because ideally, it’s a time of no ambivalence, one for open listening, taking in the other person, trying to fully understand the other’s point of view.”
What I have found is that I am noticing my daughters’ interests, their temperaments, the things they find funny and the things they don’t. They, in turn, get to see my lighter side and my personality, along with my positive strength and effective leadership skills.
6 Tips for Making Wants Something Quality Time quality
So, what sets Magda’s Wants Something Quality Time apart from regular care giving time with children? I had a conversation about this with a dear friend of mine recently as she observed me changing my infant daughter’s diaper. She was mesmerised by the moment and even described feeling emotional as she watched us together.
I could empathise as I recalled getting teary when shown a video at a RIE Foundations (respectful parenting) course that I completed last year. It showed similar caregiving experiences at the Loczy Institute in Budapest (an orphanage set up and run by paediatrician, Dr Emmi Pikler who inspired Magda’s approach). It is very hard to put into words what makes these times together so beautifully connected and emotional but I do know that once you have it worked out, the experience is both spiritual and uplifting for both parent and child.
In fact, so wonderful are these times spent with children that my husband and I fight over who gets to change our infant’s diaper or do the bath etc. In order to get that connection, however, it is important that the time spent is 100% focused on the child.
RIE Associate and respectful parenting expert, Janet Lansbury, has this lovely article that expresses these sentiments perfectly – How to love a Diaper Change.
These are the things I think are key to making Wants Something Quality Time, quality.
1. Practise, practise, practise!
The best way to improve the connectedness of caregiving time with children is to practise. I have found that the more I practise and am mindful of the idea of using this time with my children as little moments for strengthening our relationship, the more connected we become. Once they too come to appreciate the sacredness of the time together, the more it becomes an integral part of our connected relationship. It takes a degree of commitment and sometimes recommitment as the hecticness of our lives impacts the speed and intention of our caregiving, though.
Here’s an article I wrote when I first adopted this approach – Changing the Change Table Relationship
2. Be consistent
Being consistent in offering WSQT is also important as children become used to and confident in the routine established around these caregiving times. When children know that they will receive dedicated quality care time at roughly the same time/s and in the same amount each day, every day, they are more often content to work independently during their play times without worrying about when the next time someone pays attention to them will be. This is actually one of the key tenets behind respectful parenting and the RIE approach in particular. Children will need to test less and won’t need to vie for attention in less positive forms when they are guaranteed regular attention on a daily basis.
Not only should the regularity of WSQT be consistent, so too should the rhythm of the actual caregiving. For example, when bathing my infant daughter, I follow the same set of steps in the same order each time. In this way, she comes to understand what is next and can relax into the predictability of the task. This also helps her become an active participant, learning what is expected of her and allowing her to make moves to cooperate and assist in the process.
3. Go slow
A key part of making WSQT quality is not being rushed. This doesn’t mean a diaper change has to take forever, in fact I have found that my very slow diaper changes are somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes long which is not a huge time commitment even in a busy schedule. In providing care, our whole body language needs to convey a non-urgent, unhurried state. Keeping gait slow, moving arms in a steady motion and generally being unrushed in the task’s completion, sends the message to the child that nothing is more important right now than this time you are spending with her.
Further, frequently pausing and allowing tarry time for a child to process what is happening and what is required of them before moving forward helps to keep them connected to the task and ensures they are on the same ‘team’ as their parent as the task is completed together.
4. Be interested in the child’s view
Although there is a task to complete, taking moments throughout the time spent together to notice what it is that holds the interest of the child is really connecting for the child. Pausing to follow a baby’s gaze and talk to them about what they are seeing or stopping to allow a toddler to roll over and touch the side of the change table etc, acknowledging their interest as they do, helps a child feel like they are valued; that their interests matter to us.
A key difference in Magda’s approach is that when we interact with the child in these moments, we actually stop work on the caregiving task. It is very easy to get caught talking to our children about what they are noticing whilst at the same time fastening clips or taking off a diaper. When we are doing these things, focus should be on them and baby should be made aware of what we are doing in their care and invited to participate with us.
I was breastfeeding my daughter one afternoon recently and she pulled off mid feed to look at something on the wall behind my arm. In the past, I might have helped her straight back on to keep the feeding going but using a WSQT approach, I was able to follow her gaze to a light sliver cast on the wall from a narrow opening in her curtain. I was able to talk to her about that for a moment or two before she naturally found her way back to her feeding. It is these small things that make the difference in the connection. Here is a post I wrote on being connected during breastfeeding.
5. Invite participation
Since the birth of my third child, I have learned that even the youngest infant can be encouraged to participate in their own care. A child should be invited to help in the care giving process before each step is done to them. In this way, we work with the child rather than just doing things to them.
If a child’s diaper, for example, is changed without the expectation that they assist, they will learn to disengage from the process. They will find something else to keep themselves interested whilst they are changed. This usually results in the mobile infant becoming uncooperative and distracted as they find more interesting things to do than lie flat on their backs to be changed.
From birth, a baby can be asked to lift their bottom, put their leg through the leg hole etc in the change process. It will obviously take a little while before they can physically respond but, given enough tarry time, they will soon learn to cooperate and work with the parent to complete the task. My infant daughter was clearly lifting her legs to assist with diaper changes by about 3 months and now at 6 months, actively helps in nearly all aspects of her change.
I have similarly found that when breast feeding or lap feeding solids to my daughter, she can be an active participant. From early on, I would ask her if she was finished drinking and ready for a burp. I would then give her time to process my words (tarry time) before gently helping her off. By about 4 months she would often suckle for a few moments (maybe 10-15secs) longer and then take herself off, ready to be burped.
When feeding her solids, I hold the spoon several inches from her mouth and she moves her head to it rather than me pushing it in her mouth. Sometimes she holds the spoon with me and pushes it into her mouth herself.
Infants, babies and toddlers are capable of being active participants in their care when encouraged to do so. Children given the chance to show their competence, will often do so very quickly.
Here’s a short video demonstrating a connected diaper change. This is one of my more hurried changes with my 4 month old. She had just woken from a nap and was overdue for a feed and giving me some verbal cues for hunger which I was able to acknowledge. She was invited to participate by raising her legs, lowering her legs, putting her feet into her pants etc, all of which she willingly did. I was able to stop and give her time to be interested in things around her. She was particularly focused on things being used in the change and was reaching for and holding onto these things. I allowed her time to explore for periods of time before bringing her back to the task.
On reflection, though, there were a few things I could improve on in this video. I notice that there were some occasions I was talking to baby about her interests whilst still doing up the diaper etc. As mentioned, it is ideal to stop all parts of the actual change and give full attention to their interest, when they show one. Then wait for them to be attentive to the change of their own accord or bring them back to the task before continuing. This way they are active participants rather than distracted ones.
6. Ensure it is one on one
This is easy with a single child and not so easy with multiple but it is important that WSQT is not divided between children or the connecting effects are diluted. Magda Gerber used to say that it is much better to give a child 100% attention 50% of the time than 50% attention 100% of the time.
For younger children, a gated safe space where they can play with toys whilst their sibling is attended to, works well and for older children it is about establishing expectations and limits around this time early on. When my older children come in whilst I am tending to the baby, I talk mainly to the baby: “I can hear your big sister coming in. It sounds like she wants to show me something/ wants me to help her out with something. Excuse me for a second.” Then to big sister “I am just with baby at the moment, I want to be able to concentrate on what you want to show me/ what you need so I will come to you as soon as I am done here. Could you please wait outside?” If big sister is insistent, on interrupting, I again, excuse myself from baby and help her outside.
Although, an older child is obviously more capable of being able to wait than an infant, this attentiveness can go both ways. I try to use baby’s sleep or play periods to give my older children WSQT but if baby becomes unsettled, I will finish what I am doing with the older child rather than rushing to help baby. When I do get to baby, I will say something like “I could hear you were upset. It was hard to wait for me. I was helping your sister.” And then offer comfort if needed. Obviously, if the crying sounded distressed, I would prioritise that. It’s about knowing your child.
WSQT is a small window of time spent with a child but, approached right, it can be such a powerfully connecting experience between care giver and child. Understanding Magda’s approach to caregiving has transformed the way my husband and I view these important yet, undervalued moments in the day and subsequently increased the connectedness we have with our children immeasurably.
Slowing down caregiving moments has the added benefit that children are more likely to be content without you needing to be right by them in their play. These articles explain this in more detail…
Connection…It’s Child’s Play – Kate Russell
10 Tips for Filling Your Child’s Attention Bucket – Kate Russell
My parenting is inspired by Magda Gerber’s RIE approach which I learned of through Janet Lansbury’s blog. If you are interested in learning more you can find some good information here or I highly recommend these books (affiliate links)
Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect (2nd Edition) ~ Magda Gerber
Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting ~ Janet Lansbury
No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame ~ Janet Lansbury